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Teams Phone System: Back to Call Feature Drawing Board

Since Microsoft dubbed Teams heir apparent to the UC throne, we've been in an awkward interim period in which the app's Phone System add-on has one set of telephony call features, Skype for Business Online Phone System has another, and Skype for Business Server Enterprise Voice yet another.

It's awkward in part because this time last year Skype for Business Online Phone System (then called Cloud PBX) was in much the same spot as Teams is in today. Positioned as the centerpiece of Microsoft's UC strategy, Cloud PBX had a small but growing set of telephony features. And a full decade ago an ancestor of Skype for Business Server underwent the same messaging app-to-telephony solution transformation.

With three separate telephony solutions now in Microsoft's portfolio, let's geek out on PBX features and try to get a better feel for which offer what. Because even under its current product development trajectory, Teams Phone System won't be on par with Skype for Business calling, of either the Online or Server variety, for quite some time.

Reading the Roadmap

The best source of information about Teams Phone System call features isn't the most obvious. While Microsoft's mid-December blog, from Paul Cannon, a senior product marketing manager, is undoubtedly informative, it omits a number of features -- such as call blocking, E911, and support for existing calling plans -- that the Teams roadmap indicated would be delivered by the end of last year. Better to check the Office 365 Roadmap site, which on Dec. 28, 2017, quietly moved all Teams Phone System call features scheduled for late 2017 delivery from "in development" to "launched" (see list at right).

Teams Phone System call features both promised and delivered in late 2017 (source: Teams roadmap)

So by all appearances Microsoft is right on track. The first batch of call features that were supposed to be added by now have been added. Reading Paul's blog closely even reveals a bonus feature. Microsoft hadn't called out call history in either the Teams roadmap document or the Office 365 roadmap site, but according to Paul it's now available in Teams.

Not slipping on deliverables is a good -- even vital -- sign. Microsoft's UC aspirations hang on a service that, until the past few weeks, had no telephony capabilities whatsoever. It's as important that Microsoft adheres to its Phone System R&D promises as it is that the company stops completely reworking its UC strategy every 18 to 24 months.

Comparing Call Features

But how does Teams Phone System's nascent set of call features compare with those in Microsoft's other UC solutions? How close is Teams to feature parity with them now? And where will things stand if Microsoft continues to fulfill promises made in the Teams roadmap?

I haven't been able to find anything that directly compares the three solutions' call features. In fact, it's surprisingly difficult to find a single document from Microsoft that provides a comprehensive, up-to-date list of call features in either of the Skype for Business offerings.

Skype for Business Online Phone System's product page lists its features, and the admin guide provides more detail. But both seem to be incomplete. For example, auto-attendant and call queues are listed in the latter, but not the former despite their being introduced almost a year ago. And it looks like TTY, forward to group, and caller ID masking -- each of which either is or soon will be part of Teams Phone System -- are supported in Skype for Business Online, despite not being called out on the product page.

And I'll be darned if I can find an up-to-date list of Skype for Business Server Enterprise Voice features. I'm sure it's floating around on TechNet somewhere, but so is a lot of very dated data... from 2010, 2009, and earlier.

So drawing from various TechNet materials, files I've collected over the years, and a very handy matrix from Enabling Technologies, I cobbled together this chart:

No; expected mid-2018

Native support for: Teams Phone System SfB Online Phone System SfB Server Enterprise Voice
Call hold Yes Yes Yes
Call forward Yes Yes Yes
Call history Yes Yes Yes
Call block Yes Yes Yes
Blind transfer Yes Yes Yes
Simultaneous ringing Yes Yes Yes
Caller ID masking Yes Yes Yes
Multi-call handling Yes Yes Yes
Voicemail Yes Yes Yes
Voicemail transcription Yes Yes Yes
TTY support Yes Yes Yes
Do not disturb Yes Yes Yes
Speed dial Yes No Yes
Extension dialing Yes No Yes
User input to standard phone # Yes Yes Yes
Suggested contacts Yes No Yes
Support existing calling plan Yes No Yes
E911 support Static Static Dynamic
SfB-Teams calling 1:1 now; 1:many on Teams roadmap 1:1 now; 1:many on Teams roadmap 1:1 now; 1:many on Teams roadmap
Skype consumer federated calling No; expected mid-2018 Yes Yes
Boss/delegate No; expected mid-2018 Yes Yes
Call queues No; expected mid-2018 Yes Yes
Consultative transfer No; expected mid-2018 Yes Yes
Do not disturb breakthrough Yes Yes
Distinctive ring No; expected mid-2018 Yes Yes
1:1 to group call escalation No; expected mid-2018 Yes Yes
Forward to group No; expected mid-2018 Yes Yes
Auto-attendant No; expected mid-2018 Yes Yes
Transfer call to PSTN number No; expected mid-2018 Yes Yes
Out of office support No; expected mid-2018 Yes Yes
IP phones No; expected mid-2018 Yes Yes
USB devices No; expected mid-2018 Yes Yes
Call park No; expected late 2018 No Yes
Group call pickup No; expected late 2018 Yes Yes
Location-based routing No; expected late 2018 No Yes
Shared line appearance No; expected late 2018 No Yes
Camp-on No Yes Yes
Caller ID display No Yes, for internal SfB calls Yes, for internal SfB and external PSTN calls
Call waiting No Yes Yes
Busy options No Yes Yes
Device switching No Yes Yes
Enterprise calendar call routing No Yes Yes
Music on hold No Yes Yes
Call recording No Yes Yes
Video call monitor No Yes Yes
IVR No No Yes
Hunt groups No No Yes
Private line No No Yes
Hot desking No No Yes
Call listen/whisper/barge No No No
Time of day routing No Yes Yes
SMS texting No No No
Paging No No No
Intercom No No No
Analog devices No No Yes
Common area phones No Yes, with license Yes, without license
Bluetooth devices No No Yes
Third-party PBX integration No Not native, but possible with Cloud Connector Edition Yes
Third-party attendant console No Yes Yes
Third-party CRM integration No Yes Yes
Branch survivability No No Yes

Call features in Microsoft's three UC solutions (updated from original posting based on reader input)

As you can see, by the end of 2018 Teams Phone System promises to include many core call features currently in Skype for Business Online Phone System. In fact, Teams may include a number of features not in Skype for Business Online. For example, call park, location-based routing, and others don't seem to be included in Skype for Business Online Phone System. Some appear as 2017 deliverables in one or another iteration of the old Skype for Business Online Cloud PBX roadmap. But -- someone correct me if I'm wrong -- they weren't in fact delivered. Given that Phone System development efforts now center squarely on Teams, it would make complete sense if features that never quite made it into Skype for Business Online Phone System surface in Teams instead.

However, even if Microsoft adds everything on the roadmap, Teams will still lack a number of features currently in Skype for Business Online Phone System. These include camp-on, device switching, and music on hold. And it will likely be some time before Teams Phone System approaches feature parity with Skype for Business Server Enterprise Voice, which has a full decade of product development efforts backing its comparatively full call feature set.

All said, Teams Phone System is off to as good a start as Skype for Business Online Cloud PBX had a couple years ago. It has a small, but growing, set of call features that -- given time -- will allow its positioning as a viable UCaaS service. As it matures Skype for Business Online Phone System will likely suffice for the growing number of Office 365 customers looking for Microsoft-delivered UCaaS here and now.

Learn more about Microsoft's Skype for Business and Teams strategy at Enterprise Connect 2018, March 12 to 15, in Orlando, Fla. Register now using the code NOJITTER to save an additional $200 off the Advanced Rate (deadline extended to Friday, Jan. 19!) or get a free Expo Plus pass.

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